Edith Rigby (néeRayner) (October 18, 1872–1948) was an English suffragette. She founded a school in Preston called St. Peter's School, aimed at educating women and girls. Later she became a prominent activist, and was incarcerated seven times and committed several acts of arson. She was a contemporary of Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst.
Born Edith Rayner on St Luke's Day (18 October) in 1872 in Preston, Lancashire, she was one of seven children of Dr Alexander Clement Rayner and was educated at Penrhos College in North Wales.
She married Dr. Charles Rigby and lived with him in Winckley Square in Preston. From an early age she questioned the differences between working-class and middle-class women and after she was married she worked hard to improve the lives of women and girls working in local mills. In 1899, she founded St Peter's School, which allowed these women to meet and continue their education which otherwise would have stopped at the age of 11. At home, she was critical of her neighbours' treatment of their servants. The Rigbys had servants themselves, but allowed them certain unconventional freedoms such as being able to eat in the dining-room and not having to wear uniforms.
In 1907 she formed the Preston branch of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Rigby was a suffragette recruiter gathering new members from amongst the local Labour Party including Eleanor Higginson who became a lifelong friend. Rigby took part in a march to the Houses of Parliament in London with Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst in 1908. Fifty-seven women, including Rigby, were arrested and sentenced to a month in prison. During this time (and her subsequent sentences, seven in total) Rigby took part in hunger strikes and was subjected to force-feeding. Her activism included planting a bomb in the Liverpool Corn Exchange on 5 July 1913, and although it was later stated in court that ‘no great damage had been done by the explosion’, Mrs. Rigby was found guilty and sentenced to nine months' imprisonment with hard labour.
She also claimed to have set fire to Lord Leverhulme's bungalow on the West Pennine Moors near Rivington Pike on 7 July 1913.
The property contained a number of valuable paintings and the attack resulted in damage costing £20,000. Afterwards she said:
Rigby disagreed with the WSPU's decision not to campaign on suffrage issues during World War I. She joined the Independent Women's Social and Political Union split, forming a branch in Preston.
Edith Rigby plaque in Preston.
According to Elizabeth Ashworth in Champion Lancastrians, Rigby was the first lady to ride a bicycle in Preston. During World War I, she bought a cottage near Preston named Marigold Cottage and used it to produce food for the war effort. With short hair and wearing men's clothes, she grew fruit and vegetables and kept animals and bees, following the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. She had a happy marriage with her husband, who retired and lived with her at her cottage. They adopted a son called Sandy. In the 1920s Rigby was a founding member and the president of the Hutton and Howick Women's Institute.
In 1926, shortly after the death of her husband, Rigby moved to North Wales. She continued to follow Steiner's work, forming an "Anthroposophical Circle" of her own, and visiting one of his schools in New York. Into old age she enjoyed a healthy lifestyle, bathing in the sea, fell walking and meditating in the early hours of every morning. She eventually suffered from Parkinson's disease and died in 1948 near Llandudno, Wales.